Spokane North Notes
A weekly bulletin of the Spokane-North Rotary
August 24, 2015
Editors: Jim Minkler and Sandy Fink
Photos: Eric Johnson
Program coordinator: Brad Stark
          “Today is the day we stock the shelves at Holmes Elementary with school supplies,” President Lenore Romney reminded the club.  She asked members for a show of hands for who was planning on participating in this annual project.  Numerous hands went up indicating there would be an ample team of volunteers to complete the project in a timely fashion.  Thanks to the following members for helping with the storing of the school supplies:  Lenore Romney, Jim Minkler, Doug Toone, Eric Johnson, Brian Hipperson, Dave Hayward, Bruce Ellwein, and Sandy Fink.
“The Washington Policy Center puts out a plain English version of all the bills being considered in a legislative session,”
          explained Chris Cargill,  Eastern Washington Office Director for the Washington Policy Center.
          Cargill said an associate once referred to him as “the oldest young guy I ever met.”  He was named by Inland Business Catalyst magazine as one of the 20 top professional and civic leaders under the age of 40 in the Inland Northwest.  Cargill, a Spokane native and Gonzaga University alum, has authored many of the Washington Policy Center’s (WPC) studies specific to eastern Washington.  In addition to his WPC role, he also serves on Spokane Mayor David Condon’s Advisory Council on Small Business.
          “We are a think tank at the state level,” Cargill claimed, not so unlike the national think tanks but with a specific, statewide focus.  The WPC is a 501c3 with 17 employees.
          The WPC monitors everything that is going on in a legislative session, Cargill stated, which covers summarizing the language in the bills, reporting on the status of the bills as they are discussed in the House and the Senate, as well as the attendance for votes by all of the legislators.  To grasp the magnitude of this role, Cargill asked the club members how many bills were introduced during the last session of the Washington State Legislature.  With no club members hazarding a guess, he stated that 2,445 bills had been introduced during the regular session, with 308 bills ultimately being passed.
          “Yes, we take attendance,” Cargill admitted, “and there were 95 legislators who did not miss any of the votes.”  There were six legislators, however, Cargill went on to say, who missed more than 50% of the votes.  Of those six, only one was from eastern Washington, and that was due to the illness and eventual death of that legislator’s mother.
          Cargill said that this session started with a forecasted revenue growth of $2.9 billion, which actually increased to more than $3.2 billion in May.  The House, with a Democratic Party majority of 51 – 47, ended the regular session with a $38.8 billion budget, while the Senate, with a Republican majority of 26 – 23, finished with a $38 billion budget.  After adding three sessions unto the regular session, Cargill reported that at 11:35 p.m., June 30th, a compromise between the two parties was reached, avoiding a state government shutdown by 25 minutes.  The final compromise was a $38.2 billion budget, a 13% increase in the overall state budget with no general tax increases. 
          One of the main hurdles in reaching a compromise, Cargill explained, was over basic education funding.  With the Supreme Court’s insistence that the Legislature properly fund education in compliance to the McCleary decision in regards to smaller K-12 classroom sizes, the two legislative bodies eventually agreed to increase the funding. 
          Although the Legislature eventually voted to increase funding, the State Supreme Court found the amount inadequate and decided to fine the Legislature $100,000 per day until an adequate plan is reached.  The Supreme Court also plans to invest this fine into an account that will fund the smaller class sizes for K-12 education, Cargill stated, but has neither the authority to impose the fine nor create such an account.  Because of this the Supreme Court, Cargill said,  asked Governor Inslee to fine the Legislature and create the account,  but the Governor declined saying he did not have the authority either.
          Cargill asked, “So what if the Legislature does nothing?” Cargill said that with 150 days until the next session, that would add up to about $15 million.  With the Governor not willing to enforce the order, “nobody knows exactly what will happen,” Cargill said, “but the likely conclusion will be is that the Supreme Court has no teeth.”
          “We are the only state in the country where college tuition is actually going down,” Cargill said.  When asked by a club member how the universities were going to make up for the difference from the lower tuition, Cargill explained that the Legislature had agreed to increase the state funding to colleges to allow them to operate with the lower tuition.
          “The Legislature actually voted to fund the North South Freeway Project,” Cargill stated, “with an additional 12 cent per gallon gas tax which will extend out to 2027.”
          Cargill reported that the House did pass a minimum wage bill, HB1355, which would raise the amount to $12.00 per hour over a 4 year period, but the Senate refused to hear the bill.  There are a number of policy questions, Cargill mentioned, that still need to be explained.  Teen-age workers and those workers who are being trained, for example, should they be paid the same minimum wage, Cargill asked.  In addition, he stated that unions, the very ones promoting the increases in the minimum wage, ask for an exemption for unions but are adamantly opposed to anyone else receiving an exemption, he said.
          Cargill stated that the Washington Policy Center was thinking about adding an additional element to its list of policy issues, that being agriculture, which would join the following list: education, environment, government reform, health care, small business, technology and telecommunications, and transportation.
          Cargill invited club members to consider attending the WPC’s fundraising event on Thursday, September 24th, 6:00 p.m. at the Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane for the Eastern Washington Annual Dinner featuring former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.